5 Foods to Beat the Winter Blues
Stock your pantry with foods that will boost your mood and immunity on the coldest months of the year
Eat to beat the blues
Winter and great health go together like sardines and chocolate ice cream. Or, at least, that's what many people think. Between November and March (or, let's face it, April), living in the sweet spot of the northern hemisphere can feel like an exercise in mucus management and sun-stripped seasonal malaise. But it doesn't have to be that way.
Both immunity and emotional well-being are within reach, with the right nutrients-and the right foods. Read on to find out how to stock your cupboards to battle the winter blahs.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3s are the health nut's worst-kept secret: almost everyone, it seems, has been waxing ecstatic about these so-called "good fats" for the better part of the past decade. But, apart from being essential fatty acids-that is, fats that the human body can't synthesize on its own but that are crucial for healthy metabolic function-the specifics can get a little hazy.
"Many studies have shown their ability to reduce depression and depression symptoms," explains Tara Miller, a holistic nutritionist based in Toronto. "But they're also really great for reducing inflammation, which is often related to getting sick."
In other words, omega-3s are a winter warrior's ideal ally. Miller says that the best sources for these are fatty fish like wild salmon, anchovies and sardines. Nuts and seeds are also a good bet, especially walnuts, flax seeds (and flax oil), chia seeds, and hemp seeds.
"Another interesting thing is that spinach is actually really high in omega-3s," says Miller. "All leafy greens contain them, but spinach is the highest."
Vitamin D, like omega-3s, has been linked to huge increases in immunity as well as lowered depressive symptoms.
"A lot of seasonal affective disorder patients have been treated with high doses of vitamin D and have seen positive results," says Miller.
Unfortunately, there aren't many food sources for this mood-enhancing vitamin; it's best synthesized from the sun by our skin. But, during those dark winter months, anything solar isn't the most viable option. Food-wise, egg yolks and fatty fish are the best ways to get vitamin D. People with dietary restrictions that do not allow for these options may wish to seek supplementation.
B vitamins support neurological health; many, especially vitamin B3 and folate (or folic acid) help to manufacture neurotransmitters like serotonin.
"In terms of immunity, all B vitamins help promote white blood cell production to help fight infections," says Miller.
Brazil nuts, avocados, oats and eggs are all high in B vitamins. With Brazil nuts, there's a bonus of immunity and mood-boosting selenium.
"B12 is important too, but unless it's a fortified food, it's only found in meat, dairy, or egg products," Miller says. "If you're a vegan or vegetarian, you should consider taking a supplement."
By now, just about everyone knows about vitamin C's immunity-boosting superpowers. It's also high in antioxidants and can increase energy levels and lower anxiety.
While most people associate it with fruits, particularly those of the citrus variety, Miller points out that there are alternate options for people looking to source their food from a little closer to home.
"Leafy greens are huge," she says. Other good sources include parsley, broccoli and cauliflower. "All of these are great options that you could find at a local farmer's market."
Magnesium is another important mineral for reducing depression and stress, and bolstering immunity.
"It's found in leafy greens, fish and nuts," says Miller, "which ties into everything. There's so much overlap in the foods containing all these vitamins and minerals, which is great. It highlights why a balanced diet is so great for winter health."